Can the Introduction of a Full-Service Supermarket in a Food Desert Improve Residents' Economic Status and Health?

Published in: Annals of Epidemiology, Volume 27, Issue 12 (December 2017), Pages 771-776. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2017.10.011

Posted on RAND.org on March 28, 2018

by Andrea Richardson, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Robin L. Beckman, Karen Rocío Flórez, Amy Soo Jin DeSantis, Rebecca L. Collins, Tamara Dubowitz

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Purpose

To estimate the impacts of a new supermarket in a low-income desert, on residents' economic status and health.

Methods

We surveyed a randomly selected cohort in two low-income Pittsburgh neighborhoods before and about 1 year following the opening of a supermarket. We used difference-in-difference approach to test changes across the two neighborhoods in residents' food security, United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infant and Children participation, employment, income, and self-reported health/chronic disease diagnoses.

Results

We observed declines in food insecurity (-11.8%, P < .01), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation (-12.2%, P < .01), and fewer new diagnoses of high cholesterol (-9.6%, P = .01) and arthritis (-7.4%, P = .02) in the neighborhood with the new supermarket relative to residents of the comparison neighborhood. We also found suggestive evidence that residents' incomes increased more ($1550, P = .09) and prevalence of diabetes increased less in the neighborhood with the supermarket than in the comparison neighborhood (-3.6%, P = .10).

Conclusions

Locating a new supermarket in a low-income neighborhood may improve residents' economic well-being and health. Policymakers should consider broad impacts of neighborhood investment that could translate into improved health for residents of underserved neighborhoods.

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